The Future of Cars According to (Disney in) 1958

In the 1950s, Walt Disney started a television show in order to fund the theme park he wished to build called Disneyland. In 1958, this television show featured a segment called The Magic Highway, which discussed the future of cars:

I am very fond of historical projections of the future, and this is an especially well-done one. Though I should mention that one bit of the future it predicted—larger, straighter highways designed for faster travel—was not much of a prediction as the US interstate highway system was already underway (it began in 1956).

There are some things which are remarkably common to predictions of the future which can be seen in this movie too. One is the way that user interfaces are either predicted to change when they won’t or remain static when they will change. In this case the computer which drives the car is given its destination via punch card. (In another scene data is entered via toggle switches.) On the other hand, the steer wheel was replaced by by joysticks, which are actually a terrible interface for driving a car. By contrast, steering wheels are actually a very good interface for driving a car, so there’s no real reason to replace them.

There is also the assumption that energy will be free and consequently used in the most lavish of fashions (like heating highways to dry them off from the rain). I think that was related to the expectation of the coming nuclear age and how it will provide almost unlimited power. That was still highly optimistic since at a minimum one needs to maintain an electrical distribution grid, and wires have to be sized to the electricity they’re carrying, which means copper or aluminum fabrication and distribution.

But details like distribution aside, the predictions that nuclear power would result in free power never panned out for the simple reason that the nuclear part of a nuclear power plant is actually a small fraction of the work which goes on in a nuclear power plant. At their heart, nuclear power plants are giant hot-water heaters. The electricity is produced in turbines which are turned by steam. The only significant difference between a nuclear power plant and a coal power plant (or oil, natural gas, etc.) is what heats the water.

Anyway, check it out. It’s very interesting to see the ways in which futurians are often wrong and sometimes right.

One thought on “The Future of Cars According to (Disney in) 1958

  1. Pingback: Of All Things To Predict, The Future is the Hardest – Chris Lansdown

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